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Free Agency 2009 (07/03)
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July 7, 2009
Free Agency 2009
The Small Forwards

by Kevin Pelton

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If you're looking to go deep as the NBA enters free agency for the 2009 off-season, Basketball Prospectus is your place. Starting last week and continuing this week, we will rank the top 20 free agents at each position, looking not only at the stars but also at the role players who will help fill out benches across the league. Players have been arranged into tiers that generally reflect their overall value in a vacuum, regardless of team need.

Previously: Free Agency 2009: The Point Guards | The Shooting Guards

Reading the player charts:

  • T is free agent type, either restricted (R) or unrestricted (U).
  • Age as of the end of the 2008-09 regular season.
  • WARP is Wins Above Replacement Player, while Win% is the estimated winning percentage of a team made up of the player and four average teammates.
  • TS% is True Shooting Percentage, the best measure of scoring efficiency.
  • Reb% is the percentage of available rebounds the player grabbed while on the floor.
  • Pass is a personal junk stat incorporating assists per minute and assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • BS% is the sum of blocks and steals per 100 possessions.

THE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS

Player               Tm   T    Age    Win%   WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Lamar Odom          LAL   U   29.5   0.573   7.6   0.542   15.5   0.57   4.9
Ron Artest          HOU   U   29.4   0.511   4.9   0.512    8.3   0.71   3.0
For all the talk of his inconsistency, for the silly manufactured story about his candy addiction and how it might cause said inconsistency, the numbers make it clear that Lamar Odom is an awfully good basketball player. Based on individual numbers, he comes out as a seven- or eight-win player, and that alone would be enough to make him the class of this group. In addition, per BasketballValue.com Odom had the league's fourth-best adjusted plus-minus. The Lakers were at their best in 2008-09 when Odom was playing and playing well, and while they moved quickly to add Ron Artest last week, the defending champs cannot afford to lose Odom over a difference of a couple million dollars. With his ability to play either forward position, Odom is an irreplaceable piece for the Lakers. Whether it's because nobody has the money to meet Odom's demands or because it is assumed he'll end up back in L.A., we've heard precious little about Odom so far. He could be a very interesting fit for Portland as a sixth man should the Lakers get too cheap.

I've already written in BP Unfiltered about what Artest's addition means to the Lakers, but let me wax a little more positive on the addition. Adjusted plus-minus has also historically rated Artest as one of the league's top 10-15 players, and done so consistently enough that I'm willing to believe Artest's advanced individual stats--and the erratic play we often see on the court--sell him short. While Trevor Ariza is a fine defender, Artest will be an upgrade at that end of the floor, and his size could allow for some interesting cross-matching with Odom at times should they team up in the Lakers' frontcourt. Offensively, Artest has put up consecutive seasons of 38-percent-plus shooting from beyond the arc, so it's reasonable to expect him to be capable of making the spot-up threes the Lakers' offense creates for its small forwards. There are certainly legitimate reasons to believe he will work well in L.A. It's just that they require a little more faith in Artest than I possess.

THE VALUABLE ROLE PLAYERS

Player               Tm   T    Age    Win%   WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Trevor Ariza        LAL   U   23.8   0.535   5.0   0.544    9.9   0.44   4.3
Hedo Turkoglu       ORL   U   30.1   0.500   5.0   0.541    8.1   1.62   1.6
Shawn Marion        TOR   U   31.0   0.518   5.3   0.522   13.9   0.21   3.9
Marvin Williams     ATL   R   22.8   0.516   4.4   0.569   10.7   0.09   2.9
Josh Childress      ATL   R   25.8   0.553   6.5   0.647    9.6   0.16   2.3

If we look strictly at age and production, there's an argument that Ariza belongs at the top of this list, which makes him a pretty nice value for the mid-level exception for the Rockets. Again, the fit isn't perfect. The possession problem I wrote about with Artest going to L.A. works in the other direction for Houston and Ariza. With Tracy McGrady sidelined for at least the first half of the season, the Rockets are in need of creators even if Yao Ming is able to play, and Ariza isn't really that guy. Of course, if Yao doesn't play, Houston's primary mindset is stockpiling assets for the future, and Ariza is a nice one. Even without the benefit of the lights-out three-point shooting that helped carry the Lakers in the postseason he rated essentially as valuable as any free-agent small forward save Odom. There are plenty of good years ahead of Ariza.

The hype-to-production ratio on Hedo Turkoglu has been pretty high the last couple of months. It would be unfair to call Turkoglu an average player despite his precisely .500 per-minute productivity, because his durability makes him a valuable player. Nor, however, do the numbers suggest the difference-maker the Raptors are paying Turkoglu to be, and I suspect the Blazers will ultimately come to feel they got away with one when Turkoglu backed out of a deal with Portland to sign with Toronto instead. Turkoglu's ability to both create and finish shots will help the Raptors' 22nd-ranked offense, but he doesn't figure to offer much of an upgrade to a defense that also was 22nd in Defensive Rating a year ago, and without improvement there Toronto will not contend.

Shawn Marion is the odd player out in the wake of Turkoglu's turn, generating surprisingly little interest for a guy who was an All-Star every year from 2005 through 2007. The big problem is that Marion's value, as much as almost any free agent's, is contextual. As I laid out in an Every Play Counts piece while Marion was still in Miami, to be successful he needs an up-tempo team, one that will play him at power forward and one that will give him the chance to make plays on offense without the ball. The Raptors were, at best, one out of three on those points. Lo and behold, his rate stats changed little following the trade save for a considerable increase in possession usage. Unfortunately, unless Mike D'Antoni shows interest in a reunion in New York, it's tough to see what team can offer Marion all of the things he needs to succeed.

Rounding out the group of the upper-tier small forwards on the market are a pair of ex-Hawks for whom, for whatever reason, I can't muster much enthusiasm. Marvin Williams developed a three-point shot last season, which helped his True Shooting Percentage and his overall numbers skyrocket. At the same time, for a player with Williams' tools to be used so often as a spot-up shooter doesn't portend huge steps forward in the future, and his possession usage (18.3 percent of Atlanta's possessions) was on the low side. I had honestly forgotten how valuable Josh Childress was in 2007-08 before taking his game overseas. The performance wasn't entirely out of line with the rest of his career, and Childress is still young enough to have some growing in front of him. Worse players have gotten big money.

THE LESSER ROLE PLAYERS

Player               Tm   T    Age    Win%   WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Grant Hill          PHX   U   36.5   0.482   3.4   0.584    9.4   0.43   3.4
Jamario Moon        MIA   R   28.9   0.490   3.2   0.567   10.6   0.23   4.5
Linas Kleiza        DEN   R   24.3   0.425   0.4   0.552   10.3   0.05   1.4
Matt Barnes         PHX   U   29.1   0.443   1.2   0.537   11.5   0.85   2.1

Age is the biggest reason why Grant Hill ends up in this tier of players though his production isn't considerably different from the previous group. After a fine two-year run in Phoenix, Hill may miss the Suns' training staff in his next stop. Jamario Moon has always come out very well by both my numbers (which love his high block rate) and plus-minus without generating quite as much excitement from his coaching staffs. Nonetheless, it sounds like Miami is likely to re-sign Moon to be part of a crowded competition for playing time at small forward.

As a capable three-point shooter who can play either forward position, Linas Kleiza will have a job in the NBA for a very long time. He's the kind of player who could fall through the cracks this year in free agency and end up a bargain, whether for the Nuggets or someone else if Denver is fearful of the luxury tax. Matt Barnes started 40 games in Phoenix and averaged double-figures for the first time in his career, but it wasn't an especially strong campaign in terms of advanced stats. To boost his True Shooting Percentage, Barnes is going to have to start hitting three-pointers at a better clip, having made 29.3 percent and 34.3 percent the last two years in more than 500 combined attempts.

THE SPECIALISTS

Player               Tm   T    Age    Win%   WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Walter Herrmann     DET   U   29.8   0.383  -0.4   0.514   10.1   0.08   1.1
Wally Szczerbiak    CLE   U   32.1   0.427   0.4   0.581    8.9   0.22   1.5
Ime Udoka           SAS   U   31.7   0.381  -0.7   0.470   10.7   0.21   2.7

OK, besides looking like Fabio, I'm not sure what it is that Walter Herrmann specializes in, but he belongs in this group. Herrmann gave Charlotte some very good minutes as a rookie in 2006-07; since then, he hasn't been especially productive.

Wally Szczerbiak and Ime Udoka fall more neatly into the definition. If you could combine Szczerbiak's shooting with Udoka's defense, you'd have a handy player. As it is, both players had a tough time staying on the floor for quality teams. Szczerbiak is best deployed now as a situational shooter after Cleveland found him unable to contribute in a larger role in the Eastern Conference Finals. Udoka is more well-rounded than stoppers like Quinton Ross, so there's a place for him somewhere.

Player               Tm   T    Age    Win%   WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Ryan Bowen          NOH   U   33.4   0.413   0.0   0.585    6.6   0.15   5.1
Desmond Mason       OKC   U   31.5   0.305  -2.4   0.458    8.6   0.08   2.9
Joey Graham         TOR   U   26.9   0.387  -0.9   0.541   11.1   0.03   1.8
Stephen Graham      IND   U   26.9   0.299  -1.7   0.498    7.7   0.08   1.1
Cartier Martin      CHA   R   24.4   0.356  -0.3   0.489    7.6   0.17   2.8

If I ran an NBA team, I'd want a Ryan Bowen on my bench. Even at age 33, he continues to contribute through sheer force of hustle when called upon, and he's a useful presence in the locker room and in practice. Desmond Mason brings the latter two qualities. Unfortunately, his game has slid below replacement level, even giving him credit for his defense. Paying him more than the veteran minimum or expecting him to be part of a rotation next season would be a mistake.

Joey Graham enjoyed a career season in 2008-09...and still rated below replacement level. While he's developed some semblance of an offensive game, it remains a mystery how a player so athletic can be such a non-factor in terms of blocks and steals. Graham's twin brother Stephen also saw the most action of his career in Indiana, his production rating well below replacement level. Called up from the D-League, Cartier Martin got 33 games and a start for the Bobcats, doing little in that span to suggest he should stick.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Free Agency 2009 (07/08)

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